HONOLULU (KHON2) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Tuesday announced that decisions made by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to not implement NTSB safety recommendations played a role in the 2019 tour helicopter crash off Hawaii that killed seven people.

“The NTSB previously made 11 recommendations to the FAA to prevent accidents like this one, but our recommendations only work when they are implemented. It’s time for the FAA to act,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy in their first in-person board meeting since February 2020.

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On Dec. 26, 2019, the seven-seat Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter operated by Safari Aviation crashed in a remote area of wooded terrain near Kekaha. The 69-year-old pilot and all six passengers died in the accident.

According to investigators, the pilot flew into a mountainous region shrouded in low clouds and fog. NTSB determined that the pilot wasn’t able to exit due to limited visibility — he either lost control or flew into rising terrain that he couldn’t see. He was considered Safari’s chief pilot and check airman.

Before the helicopter departed, low clouds and rain began to move onshore along the tour route, NTSB said. The Board identified three other air tour pilots who saw the weather and diverted their tours. However, the pilot of the fatal crash continued to fly in low visibility conditions.

NTSB said this decision was likely influenced by a lack of up-to-the-minute weather information, an unusual weather pattern and “may have been influenced by the possibility that he inadequately assed the weather conditions in flight or was overconfident in his abilities.”

Watch KHON2’s original report below:

Investigators said the limitations of aviation infrastructure in some areas of Hawaii lead tour pilots to rely heavily on their own assessment of weather conditions.

As a result of previous fatal aviation accidents involving limited weather information, NTSB said it recommended the FAA to develop and require specialized inflight weather training for air tour operators in Hawaii. NTSB said it also advised the FAA to require air taxi and air tour operators to have safety management systems, which would have reduced many of the safety issues identified in this accident.

The FAA sent the following statement to KHON2:

“We take these recommendations seriously. Already, the FAA has installed five weather cameras in Hawaii with 21 more coming. Air tour operators today can apply to the FAA’s voluntary Safety Management System program, and we have rulemaking underway to make these systems a requirement. We encourage air tour operators to equip their aircraft with ADS-B and flight data recorders, and are exploring making recorders mandatory.”

FAA

The executive summary, probable cause, findings, and safety recommendations are in the report abstract available here.

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The final report is expected to be published on the NTSB website in the next several weeks.​